Archive for the ‘Understanding comics’ Category

Two remarkable cartoon books

February 5, 2021

… edited by Bob Eckstein and published by Princeton Architectural Press:

The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons (by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists), 2019. (33 contributors)


(#1) Bob and the Book Cartoons cover

Everyone’s a Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book (by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists), 2020. (37 contributors)


(#2) The Critic cover

The books are physically beautiful; they are also affectionate tributes to independent bookstores and to cartoonists as a group. (The very American boast world’s greatest points to the strongly American focus of the books — a very heavy concentration of New Yorker cartoonists, in fact, though others are included.)

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Cure Bear

January 19, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, which can be understood only if you know about two (hugely distant) bits of popular culture:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

That’s The Cure + Care Bear = Cure Bear: linguistically, a portmanteau; visually, a composite of Robert Smith of the band The Cure and one of the Care Bear toys.

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An old hand, and two young hands

December 17, 2020

In the latest (12/21) New Yorker, two cartoons that especially caught my eye: one by a very old hand in the business, George Booth (now 94); the other by two young women (roughly 30), Sophie Lucido Johnson and Sammi Skolmoski (both of whom are writers as well as artists). The Booth is an absurd literalization of the idiom (put the) cart before the horse. The SLJ/SS is wryly funny as it stands, but gains immeasurably if you know about a particular children’s book.

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The multipurpose elephant

September 24, 2020

In the 9/28 New Yorker, this Danny Shanahan cartoon:


(#1) “And this is Dyson.”

The cartoon is incomprehensible if you don’t know that Dyson is the name of a brand of vacuum cleaners (which come with a variety of attachments, as does the elephant above).

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Crossed folk stories

September 9, 2020

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro cartoon:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)

The strip explicitly refers to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but also alludes to the Piper’s son as having stolen a pig. This is baffling unless you know a particular English nursery rhyme, so we have another exercise in cartoon understanding.

Ok, let’s assume you get that. Then the cartoon is a kind of conceptual portmanteau, a cross between the Piper legend and the Piper’s son nursery rhyme. Then set in a modern law-enforcement context, juxtaposing some (stereotyped) version of the real world with the world of these two folk stories. Cool.

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Pavlov’s novelist

June 16, 2020

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collabo, with a groaner pun on the name F. Scott Fitzgerald (the American writer) plus an instance of the Pavlov cartoon meme:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

The pun is straightforward (it does depend on your recognizing Spot as a conventional name for dogs in English); but though Pavlov isn’t mentioned in the cartoon, it’s all about classical, or Pavlovian, conditioning, and the cartoon makes no sense unless you recognize the allusion to Pavlov, and also recall that Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate (and expect food) on hearing a bell ringing (here, the carriage return bell on a typewriter, which younger readers will be unfamiliar with, typewriters being an obsolete technology — but the cartoon helpfully fills in this bit of typewriter arcana).

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The flying fickle finger of foam

June 2, 2020

The 6/1 Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collabo, a medical cartoon:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

The crucial thing here is a pop-cultural reference, involving that huge hand (in the drawing) and the reference to being a fan at sporting events (in the text); if you don’t know that connection, the cartoon is just baffling.

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The shoe in the toilet

May 22, 2020

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro “Writer’s Block”, with a plumber coming to the rescue:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

The plumber’s explanation alerts us to the fact that this is about a pun (involving homonyms), but it doesn’t locate the responsible item. He’s holding out a shoe, indicating that this is the relevant object. Crucially, it’s not just any shoe, but a specific type of shoe, known as a … clog.  Ah, and the plumber’s job was presumably to clear a clog in the toilet. (But ya gotta know your shoes.)

Further ah: the clog in the toilet was a clog.

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Edgar Allan Wrench

May 15, 2020

Time for a POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau), today in a Wayno/Piraro Bizarro strip: Edgar Allan Poe meets the Allen wrench:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

The two contributions: Poe and his story “The Premature Burial”; and the Allen wrench, or hex nut, a device analogous to an ordinary screwdriver, designed to tighten or free up  specially designed screws or bolts with a recessed hexagonal slot in their head.

Buried alive, with the casket top screwed or bolted down? Reach for your Allen wrench!

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Thrifty, Brave, Clean, & Flammable

May 8, 2020

Wayno’s title for today/s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, in which the world of summer scout camp for kids intersects with the complex fictional world of the animate marionette Pinocchio. To understand the cartoon, you need to recognize both of these worlds (a matter of considerable cutural knowledge); and to understand why it’s funny, you need specific detailed information about each of these worlds.


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page

The key words are kindling and fibs.

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